The labor market tightened over the last year and surgery center leaders are keeping a close eye on the trends.
Alfonso del Granado, administrator and CEO of Covenant High Plains Surgery Centers in Texas, told Becker's the top issue he's watching ahead of 2024 is the possible easing of the healthcare labor market.
"Although there are signs that the overall labor market nationwide is easing, there are two factors that make it difficult for me to tell for sure," he said. "First, healthcare labor has its own challenges that have been worsening over the past decade, and these decouple it somewhat from the general labor market. And second, my experience is very regionalized, as my centers are at a geographic remove from major population centers, which makes it hard to import labor, but also ensures a reasonably steady local supply."
The local health systems affect labor markets in any region; some are cutting jobs while others are expanding services and providing incentive bonuses for talent. Inflation and competition for talent have pushed up staff wages considerably at surgery centers.
"I am closely observing the impact and trajectory of increasing salaries for our healthcare workers, which signifies a growing recognition for their crucial role in patient care," said Sarah Sterling, director of area operations for San Francisco at Sutter Health surgery center division. "As leaders strive to manage budgets while retaining and attracting talent, we will face the challenge of fostering greater creativity in how our teams function. It will be fascinating to see how industry leaders respond to this demand and achieve balance."
Economists have good news for surgery centers ahead of the new year. The Wall Street Journal reported inflation is slowing faster than expected and could be back to normal next year.
"I'm somewhat optimistic that this shortage is easing somewhat, if only for the short term, as our growth plans are highly dependent on our ability to attract top talent in the coming months," Mr. del Granado said.
Nurses and other medical roles may also be more willing to take a pay cut to work in the outpatient setting than they were in previous years. Ira Richterman, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Canton, Ohio-based OrthoUnited Spectrum, said some ASCs found they were able to maintain and hire staff at a lower pay rate than hospitals as long as the surgery center provided more work-life balance. Nurses are looking for ways to avoid burnout and work more favorable hours, which surgery centers can provide.
"Working during the day, and no nights, weekends or holidays, certainly represents great value," Dr. Richterman told Becker's. "Hospital systems have created an unsustainable pay scale escalation. These over inflated labor costs are having detrimental consequences to their financial survival."